Revelation 20:1-6, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
Death is the inescapable part of being human. Regarding this life, The Doors frontman Jim Morrison joked, with a tinge of irony for he died early, “No one here gets out alive.” Some rightly refer to death as the “destination of life.” The daunting reality is that one day you will die. One day I will die. There will be a day when everyone in this room will, at last, be dead.
What’s worse is the fact that unless you do something truly awesome or infamous there will also be a day when even the memory of the dead will be forgotten by the living. Renowned British street artist, only known as Banksy, summed up this depressing truth the following way. He said, “They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
Funny but deeply tormented comic Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life on August 11, 2013, once quipped to a friend that “death is nature’s way of saying, ‘Your table is ready.’” I know… I know… Death is such a morbid thing to talk about! I’d even go so far as to say many of you are dying for me to move on to some other topic.
Because death is as natural as birth and is the certain fate we all share, the grand question mankind has grappled with since the beginning of time is what comes after death.
There are those who hold to a humanistic perspective regarding the nature of man that will argue nothing follows the physical death. They contend that when you finally breathe your last you will simply cease to be. Since no part of “you” exists apart from the material, with death comes no regrets, no reunions, no lasting memories. Light gives way to darkness.
Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking, who was a brilliant man but one with a deep animosity towards the religious, described death the following way… “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” With his passing in March of 2018, I’ll take a gander that Hawking has been persuaded otherwise.
For most, such a position regarding death is untenable and rejected. And while I’d argue this to be the case for, according to Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has put eternity in our hearts,” the simple fact is people want to believe there is more to this life, something beyond the grave… People want to believe their loved ones are in a better place, that the silver lining in death is that it allows us to be reconnected with those we’ve lost.
While this is undoubtedly the case, it is also true what people believe regarding the afterlife is all over the place. Many see our existence after death as being a mystical, transcending experience where our non-personal, life-force achieves a state of nirvana. In fact, contemporary depictions present the dead as becoming either guardian angels who now spend their time looking out for their loved ones or worse still haunting spirits.
Today, roughly 1.2 billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population believe following death the soul actually reincarnates into another life form on earth based upon karma.
To be fair, for those who hold to a bodily resurrection and a tangible reality following death the positions equally differ. From a belief in a place called heaven for the saved, hell for the damned, and purgatory for those caught in between — to the ultimate promise of mansions, 70 virgins, or getting your own planet to rule, even the major monotheistic religions lack any type of general uniformity with regards to what the afterlife looks like.
Alarmingly, if I were to take a poll of those listening to this study and ask that you explain what happens after you die, data suggests your answers would be inconsistent at best. It’s astounding how many genuine Christians aren’t really sure what their reality will look like moving beyond the grave when the Bible has so much to say about this future experience.
First and foremost, while the Bible affirms the reality of death as being the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”) the Scriptures are clear your death is not the end of your life but a transition into a whole new eternal existence. Paul affirms, in Acts 24:15, “There will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.”
In fact, I’m not a fan of the word afterlife for it implies death is somehow the end of living. Instead, a more Biblically accurate phrase would be “life after death.” Understand, what makes our position concerning life after death much different is the fact we base our claims on the testimony of Jesus — the only Man who lived, died, and was seen alive again by more than 500 witnesses. As such, only Jesus can boldly declare (John 11:25), “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
As the Apostle Peter would pen in his first Epistle, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You see the resurrection of Jesus not only proves life after death but it validates all that He said of this existence.
While beginning with Revelation 20 John finishes this book by providing a radicle look into our future reality beyond the grave, before we dive into these things, I need to articulate the difficult reality that not everyone’s experience following death will be the same.
In fact, the Bible tells us what immediately happens following your physical death will be entirely predicated upon one thing — and it’s not whether or not you were a good person, charitable, or did a bunch of religious works and service — your eternal life will be predicated upon whether or not you humbly accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation.
At the end of a conversation with Nicodemus, in John 3:36, Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” If He couldn’t be any more direct, in John 14:6, Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In Acts 4:12, Peter told the crowd of Jesus, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
To this point, this critical decision as to whether or not you have a relationship with Jesus will completely determine where you find yourself the moment you die! In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus warned of this moment, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Regarding those who reject Jesus and therefore die in their sins, this person will awaken to a place of torment known as Hades in order to await the Great White Throne Judgment and their eternal sentencing. We’ll discuss this in great detail next Sunday.
For those in whose sinful debt has been satisfied on the cross of Calvary through the sacrifice of the Savior, according to 2 Corinthians 5, this person will instantly awaken in the presence of Jesus where they’ll face “the judgment seat of Christ” or the Bema Seat.
In Romans 14:10-12, Paul wrote, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
If you’ve accepted God’s gift of salvation, please know the moment you pass from this life to the next you will stand before Jesus to give an account. And yet, what’s known as the Bema Seat is not a judgment unto punishment but one unto rewards.
In Matthew 16:24-27, Jesus promised His disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”
While it’s true the Bema Seat will be the moment your life is evaluated by your Maker and Savior, never forget what the b-roll footage will not include! Gloriously, from God’s perspective, your sins are no longer part of your story for Jesus paid the price in full! Psalms 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, He has removed our transgressions from us.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” When you accept Jesus’ sacrifice, your sinful state is replaced with a permanent right-standing with God. Amazingly, when God sees you He sees Jesus! What this means is at the Bema Seat God will not view you as a sinner wearing scarlet but as the righteous clothed in a brilliant white!
At the end of the Bema Seat, you will hear the greatest words ever uttered… As noted, in Matthew 25:21, you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Truly this will be the greatest moment you’ve ever experienced!
At this point, at the beginning of your after-death life, you will spend your time enjoying the heavenly space — a place Jesus has prepared for you. Obviously, you’ll be able to hang out with Him, worship before the throne of God — you’ll be reunited with loved ones who’ve gone before, even talk with the incredible “cloud of witnesses” who preceded your arrival.
And yet, while this initial season of what we generally view as being heaven will be awesome, don’t mistake the fact it will only be temporary. You see if you entered heaven through the portal of death, the next event you’ll be anticipating will be the Rapture of the Church. You have no idea when this will occur but you’ll be there to see it happen!
The time will come when a trumpet blasts in heaven and you’ll watch Jesus go and retrieve His Bride the Church. Paul writes of this moment in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, “The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
Regarding the Rapture and this line “the dead in Christ will rise first,” personally, I believe you’ll receive your glorified, resurrected body fit for heaven immediately following death for three simple reasons. First, because we were created in the image and likeness of God with a triune nature, there is no evidence we can exist apart from a body. Secondly, at the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples saw Moses and Elijah in bodily form. Finally, Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” and immediately received His glorified body.
With the complete dispensation of the Church finally together with her Groom Jesus in heaven, as we’ve discussed, a period of seven years will commence on the earth whereby God judges the world of sin and finishes His prophetic dealings with the Nation of Israel. Beginning with Revelation 4:1 and continuing all the way to Revelation 19:10, John presents for us the written record of these future events we will all personally witness.
As you watch the seventh angel pour out of the last Bowl Judgment and then hear from the temple God declare, “It is done!” you will know this current season of life in heaven is about to come to an end and a new phase of your life after death is about to commence.
Everyone in heaven has been preparing for this moment. The last two thousand or so years have been building towards this important day. You mount the horse assigned to you, straighten out your robes, and ready yourself. It still amazes you there are so many horses in heaven. Then, without warning, the veil separating heaven from earth is torn apart.
In an instant, Jesus leads the way through this opening riding on a brilliant white stallion. Following directly behind Him, John describes the “armies of heaven” which include you.
With a swift word from Jesus, the Antichrist and False Prophet are cast alive into hell, all those who’d taken the mark are slaughtered, and the nations who’d gathered to battle the Lord destroyed. As you fly through the sky, you can’t help but think back to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:22, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved.”
On this day in human history — the day Jesus triumphantly returns to earth the same way He departed, touching down on the Mount of Olives before entering Jerusalem through the East Gate — you have a front-row seat to witness what the prophet Zechariah wrote about, “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south... And it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea.”
According to a timeline provided in Daniel 12, immediately after Jesus’ Second Coming, it will take 30 days for several things to happen. Over the course of this month, while the birds finish up consuming the cascaras of the wicked, Jesus sets about restoring the earth and healing the seas. While this is happening, Matthew 24:24 says the angels have been sent across the earth to round up and bringing all the survivors to Jerusalem.
We know this group will include the 144,000 sealed witnesses, all those who made it to the cities of refuge, as well as any believer who was able to survive the Tribulation and persecution. This collection of men and women will end up repopulating the world.
With everyone now gathered to Jerusalem and the earth restored to perfect health, according to Daniel, over the course of the next 45 days, Jesus reorders the nations and forms His government. In Matthew 25:31-32, Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” We likely play a part in this process.
Again, Daniel infers that 75 days after His Coming the Kingdom will be officially established and Jesus’ reign on this earth that will encompass a period of 1,000 years begins. In Daniel 2:44, we read, “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
Likely in conjuncture with Christ’s return and the subsequent judgment of the wicked, John records, in verse 1, also seeing “an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” John adds this angel was sent to “lay hold of Satan, bound him for a thousand years, cast him into the bottomless pit, shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should no longer deceive the nations.”
What John is describing is the incarceration of Satan not for punishment but restraint. In 1 Peter 5:8, the Apostle encourages believers to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In order to rob God of the worship of the crescendo of His creation (mankind), Satan has been the purveyor of lies to lead men astray. Since Eden, Satan has been known as “the tempter.”
While today the Devil enjoys a measure of freedom, during the Millennial Reign of Christ, he will be placed under lock and key so that he can no longer “deceive the nations.” Satan’s reign on this earth beginning in the Garden of Eden ends at the Battle of Armageddon when a nondescript, common angel “casts him into the bottomless pit for 1,000 years.” We’ll get into a more detailed discussion of this next week when these 1,000 years come to an end.
Imagine a millennium of human history where you have King Jesus ruling the entire world in perfect righteousness with no Devil to “deceive the nations.” Sure, while the sin nature of those who live on to repopulate this earth will still exist, for the first time ever, during these 1,000 years, these natural, fallen tendencies are largely kept at bay.
Justice reigns and peace among man manifests. Racial strife is but a distant past. National conflicts no longer a concern. At long last social inequities or systematic inequalities are eradicated in the Kingdom of God. There will be no hunger. No crime. No rebellion. The economic structure of this world will be radically different than it currently is. Under the reign of Jesus this world, at long last, becomes the utopia sinful man desired but failed to create.
Micah 4:1-3, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
It’s cool to think that not only will society function appropriately and the culture of this Kingdom contrast to the rot we see today but the planet will function differently following the return of her Creator. The ecosystem will be healed. Pollution non-existent. No global warming. With the world restored and under the authority of Jesus, natural disasters will be a thing of the past. No hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions.
According to Isaiah 11:5-8, even the animal kingdom will revert back to the way God always intender her to operate. The prophet writes, “Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den.”
With regards to this period of history, there are over 400 verses in some 20 passages that address this time known as the Millennial Reign of Christ. Beyond that, you need to know how critically central a literal kingdom on earth is to Jesus and His ministry…
It was prophesied of Jesus, in Isaiah 9:6-7, “Unto us a Child is born, a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.”
This is why in the divine announcement to Mary that she was pregnant, in Luke 1:31-33, the angel said, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
In the very first sermon Peter ever gave, recorded in Acts 3, he told his audience, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets.”
Getting back to our place in these things, John says, beginning with verse 4, of this new Kingdom… “I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.” With regards to the “they” in reference here, in context and the flow of the narrative, you’d have to go all the way back to Revelation 19:14 to identify this group as being “the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” who “followed Jesus on white horses.”
Not to be in any way excluded, John also records seeing “the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God… alive and reigning with Christ as priests of God for a thousand years.” You can understand for those alive during the Tribulational Period facing such a fate this passage would be so encouraging.
The idea of the saints (including the Old Testament believers, the Church, and Tribulational martyrs) being charged with important roles in the Kingdom of God is all over Scripture. Case in point — Daniel 7:27, “Then the kingdom and dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’”
Regarding the Christian’s role during these 1,000 years of life on earth, in Matthew 19, in response to an exchange Jesus had with a Rich Young Ruler, Peter asked, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Here’s Jesus' reply, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
J.M. Barrie, the Scottish novelist best known for his creation of Peter Pan, once wrote, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” You know this is not hard to disagree with when you fully come to understand what the Bible actually says happens following your death.
Not to be mistaken, the Bible describes a 1,000 year period of future, world history in which Jesus has not only returned to this earth and established a global government, but one in which you and I will also physically return years after either our death or rapture in a glorified body to practically serve in some official, administrative capacity in the Kingdom of God.
After this life, your death, the Bema Seat, and a brief time in heaven, you will return to the earth with Jesus and live here for 1,000 years as a member of His Kingdom! In fact, as hard as it is to conceptualize, you will end up living more life on this earth after death than before!
If you really take a moment to consider this amazing and honestly trippy idea, you can’t help but place this first go-around on earth into a much different context. I mean 80 years is nothing compared to 1,000! In fact, this first life ends up being so brief in light of the second I want to close by unpacking what our time here is really for?
First, if you don’t accept Jesus as your Savior during the life you have on this side of death, you will have no place in His Kingdom in the life that follows. As John pointed out, in verse 5, “The rest of the dead” (everyone who’s died rejecting Jesus’ offer of salvation) did not live again until the thousand years were finished.” As I mentioned at the beginning of this study, those who die in sin remain in Hades to await the final judgment.
Secondly, your place of service in the Kingdom that will last for 1,000 years will be specifically determined by your faithfulness to serve Jesus during this brief life.
Beyond the fact the idea of rewarded faithfulness and increased responsibility as a result is all over the Bible, this future Kingdom-life should change the way were read passages like Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Lastly, the experiences you have in this life that do not make any sense at all may very well be God preparing you for the life you’ll live in the next. To me this idea has radicle implications for how we should read promises like what we find in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” What if there are instances when “all things working together for the good” finds its fulfillment in a future life this one intends to prepare me for?
In closing, Revelation 20 presents for us a radicle glimpse into the future. As such, please keep this life in context and make it count for it will determine what comes next! If you give your life to Jesus and place your trust that His sacrifice was enough for your salvation, you can come to see death as being nothing more than the start of the next great adventure.
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